TOC Pottering around while Public Privacy peters out Your Turn

July 24, 2007

Pity the critic! What pressure Michiko Kakutani must have felt as she tackled the final installment of the Harry Potter series for the New-York Times readers (*)! Squeezed as she was between the information embargo imposed by the publishers and their plan to saturate the market on the first day, she had to procure a bootlegged volume, plough through more than seven hundred pages and deliver her copy, all in a couple of days... I hope she managed to borrow Hermione's Time-Turner.

Popularity trumps expertise. Book critics are not alone to risk finding their voice preempted. But coverage of the final Potter event by Motoko Rich (**)(***)(****) provides some hard figures to illustrate two other points.

First when marketing and logistics ensure that more than 40% of the total US market can be satisfied on day one (1) and preorders account for at least a third of these sales (2), it is hard to turn illegal copying into a profitable venture. True, such success is based on deep discounts which cut into profit margins. But before one complains, let one remember to consider not just the profit made but the speed at which it has been made. And before one seeks greater profits, I argue it is the combination of unchecked greed and of a sense of entitlement which has put the music industry in its present straights, a theme right out of J.K. Rowling's alley.

Second consider the difference between insider information and insider trading. Michiko Kakutani probably got her copy from the online retailer who shipped a week before the end of the embargo, one of 1200 lucky few according to the US publisher. Imagine bookmakers had allowed the public to bet on each hero's fate till the day of publication. What a temptation advance knowledge, a known scheduled date and the minuscule size of this "insider network" compared to the total public concerned would have created. Further assume insider trading to be legal. By the time of its release, the book itself would have lost all value. The same result would happen with reporting by public corporations, obfuscating footnotes as useless as the ambiguities of an unfolding plot whose end is known.

Meanwhile John Gapper warns us Google's actions, left unchecked, threaten our privacy (*****). Do not miss his article. It highlights two of the themes I find most important for our future:

Following Richard Waters' report on a potential bid by Google for wireless spectrum (******), the irony is that while Viacom fights Google in the name of data providers' rights, which we hope to see one day extended to us all, the same Google battles the local cable and phone duopolies and proves our ally in keeping access to the Internet as open as can be. Who knew Eric Schmidt had inspired the severely conflicted souls of the Harry Potter saga?

Philippe Coueignoux

  • (*) ............ An Epic Showndown as Harry Potter Is Initiated Into Adulthood, by Michiko Kakutani (New-York Times) - July 19, 2007
  • (**) .......... Leak Preview: New Harry Potter Book Appears onWeb (or Does It?), by Motoko Rich (New-York Times) - July 18, 2007
  • (***) ........ Suit Follows Reports of Early 'Potter" Shipments, by Motoko Rich (New-York Times) - July 19, 2007
  • (****) ...... Harry Potter's Popularity Holds Up in First-Day Sales, by Motoko Rich (New-York Times) - July 23, 2007
  • (*****) ... Google's view into the lives of others, by John Gapper (Financial Times) - July 23, 2007
  • (******) . Google prepared to bid in wireless auction, by Richard Waters (Financial Times) - July 21, 2007
  • (1) 8.3 million copies sold on the release of installment 7 compared to 120 million copies printed todate for installments 1 to 6 (source the New-York Times).
  • (2) 1.3 millions orders received by Barnes and Noble (source the New-York Times), whose market share is less than 50% in view of competition by Amazon.
July 2007
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